Assuming you’ve reframed your self-limiting assumption that you need to “do it all” yourself to be successful, the next hurdle is to teach yourself how to delegate. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally or easily. Many people resist delegating because they fear losing control over the quality of the outcome; a fear reinforced whenever something delegated goes wrong. Like the sick nanny on the important meeting day. Or the housekeeper who scratched the floor. It seems easier sometimes to just do it yourself rather than risk a junior staffer making you look bad. But effective delegation is a critical leadership skill; it’s simply not possible to “do it all” as you rise through the ranks. So, how can you delegate effectively without losing control?
1. Determine WHO is responsible. Figure out if you should be owning the task to begin with. Maybe you don’t even need to be the one delegating! Not too long ago I asked myself why I had to arrange backup daycare whenever my husband or I went on a business trip. Now, if I have to go away, I need to make the coverage arrangements. If he goes away, the task is his. Or we work on it together. How many times has someone asked you a seemingly innocuous question: “I wonder how Bill is doing on that restructuring project?” or “How much do you think we can save by reviewing our vendor agreements?” and suddenly you are in charge of a new series of tasks? Before automatically absorbing responsibility for stuff, get used to asking yourself, “Why me?” Say instead, “That’s a good question; I can’t wait to hear what you find out.” Just because someone lays responsibility for something down in front of you doesn’t mean you need to snap it up.
2. Figure out WHO you should recruit. The right person makes all the difference. Don’t just think down, think sideways and up, too. Asking your boss for help on stuff makes them feel important. Involving your peers makes them feel needed. Most people love to help and appreciate being asked. It says you respect them enough to trust them. If you are hiring someone outside of work, ask for a referral from someone you know. That way you can at least have a glimpse into what you are getting. And don’t forget to background check: It costs around $50 to check someone’s criminal and driving records (with their signed permission first).
3. MANAGE them. Set expectations, train, track results, communicate, follow-up. Don’t just delegate and leave. Many women are uncomfortable doing this at first. They fear it will take longer to train someone than to just do it themselves. Or that they won’t be liked if they provide clear and direct communication or tell others what to do. Learning to manage takes time but gets easier and faster as you develop. One idea is to let people know you are new at managing and you are a bit uncomfortable. Respectfully ask them how they think you should word things or provide negative feedback. By sharing your apprenticeship with the people you manage, you allow yourself to practice in a safer, more supportive environment.
You might also need to shed the expectation of perfection here and prioritize what is important. Done is important. Freeing up your time and energy is important. Training others so they are prepared for your delegation in the future is important. Perfect is not. People will respect you and be more willing to help you if they think you have a good sense of what is really a priority and what is just unnecessary fussing.
4. If it’s critical enough, have a backup plan. But know that most people in the world understand when something happens out of your control. Last year there was a bad storm that closed schools and one woman freaked out because she didn’t have backup daycare. She thought she would lose her job. But thousands of her colleagues were in the exact same boat. It was a one-off situation and many people were affected, then it was over. So often we get overly wound up about the importance of a single day or meeting or project and we lose sight of the big picture. Nannies get sick, housekeepers scratch floors, junior staffers make mistakes. It happens to everyone, even if it only seems to happen to you.
Getting comfortable with delegating takes trial, error, and practice. Along the way, you may even need to fire someone. Be open to the experience. The benefit is getting more out of your time and energy expenditure without bogging yourself down.
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© Kelly Watson 2013